Opposite-sex friendships are great, and can be completely uncomplicated. Or they can get you into a whole heap of trouble.
Sometimes a movie hits a chord in the collective conscience of a generation: The 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally did just that.
Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Sally: Why not?
Harry: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
Harry: No you don’t.
Sally: Yes I do…
Harry: You only think you do.
As young adults attend co-ed colleges and universities, work side-by-side at the office and travel together on business trips, the idea that the opposite sex is mysterious or foreign (and thus always somehow sexually seductive) has been replaced with the notion that men and women can–and should–be friends. According to our recent BustedHalo reader survey, only 30% of respondents agree with Harry that men and women can’t be “just friends.” Sometimes, though, it’s a challenge.
This is the first in a series of Pure Sex, Pure Love articles about male-female friendships. This article lays the general groundwork: What are the benefits and challenges of having close friends of the opposite sex? And how do you appropriately maintain that friendship when one or both of you enter into romantic relationships with other people?
Subsequent articles will tackle tensions and jealousy that sometimes arise from close male-female friendships; why we often lose touch with our opposite-sex friends when we get married or start serious relationships; and how close a friendship with your ex can be. No matter who you are or what stage you are at in the dating and relationship world, I’ll bet these topics affect you and your friends.
Was Harry right?
Nearly 90% of BustedHalo respondents say they have close friends of the opposite sex. Half of those respondents also say they’ve started dating someone with whom they’d previously been “just friends.” So was Harry right?
BustedHalo readers know that there are some real benefits to having friends of the opposite sex: a “refreshing” perspective, a sounding board, someone to move furniture, the list goes on.
“She’s your window into the mysterious world of girls,” writes Shaun, 25.
“One of my closest guy friends can laugh with me (or make me laugh) about yet another blind date gone wrong, whereas my girlfriends (mostly married or attached) sometimes don’t know what to say or shy away from saying something for fear of hurting my feelings,” writes Kate, 25.
class=”text11″ style=”margin-top:0; margin-bottom: 0;”>But there are plenty of challenges as well–especially when romantic attachments develop. “If you’re both single and straight, one of you is going to fall for the other, plain and simple,” writes Kathy, 23, and it’s complicated when one person is happy with a simple friendship while another person wants more.
Sometimes, even when two people are honestly just friends, others perceive things differently, and that’s enough to cause a lot of awkwardness: “If you’re such good friends or even look good together people assume that she’s your girlfriend or you’re having an affair,” writes Mike, 36.
TAKE THIS SURVEY!!
To Answer the Questionnaire,click here
1. Have you ever been jealous about your boyfriend/girlfriend/ husband/wife’s friendship with someone of the opposite sex? (yes/no)
2. If yes, what particularly sparked your jealousy? (short answer)
3. Have you ever had a discussion with boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife about what kind of behavior is acceptable within opposite sex friendships and what isn’t allowed? (yes/no)
4. True or false: If my boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife and I have a fight, I would be more upset if she/he told an opposite-sex friend about the details of our argument than if she/he told a same-sex friend. (True/False)
5. Do you get jealous when your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife travels on business with someone of the opposite sex? (yes/no)
Despite these challenges and occasional awkwardness, it would be silly to rule out 50% of the population as potential friends. Many of us are blessed with close friends of the opposite gender, and this is a true gift.
If a single man and a single woman are close friends and it turns into something more, it’s often a terrific match: These are two people who know and respect each other as individuals before becoming romantically involved.
But when one or both friends is in a relationship, the line between friendship and “something more” needs to be crystal clear.
Where’s the line?
Seventy percent of BustedHalo respondents said if they were in a relationship, they would feel that it is appropriate to go out for lunch alone with a friend of the opposite sex, to have drinks in a group with that friend (but without their significant other), or to e-mail regularly with that friend.
Half of respondents thought talking on the phone regularly would be appropriate, and 39% said having dinner alone together or sharing personal facts about your current relationship would be OK with a friend of the opposite sex. But 75% of respondents said it wasn’t OK to watch a movie on the couch alone – or take that person as a “just-friends” date to an event.
I’m intrigued by these responses: I’m blessed with several male friends. I go to lunch and dinner with them without my fiancé. Peter has female friends whom he goes to lunch and dinner with alone as well. We both e-mail and talk regularly to our friends of the opposite sex. Occasionally I have visiting male friends staying over on my couch (something BustedHalo respondents gave a thumbs-down vote in our recent survey) and Peter doesn’t mind, nor would I mind if the situation were reversed.
But there are certainly lines that we wouldn’t cross: I wouldn’t really be very excited if Peter started spending evenings on the couch with his female friends, nor would I think it would be a great idea to lounge around with my male friends in such an intimate environment alone.
Each couple–and each friendship–is comfortable with different levels of intimacy. The best tactic is to be open and honest with your boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse about your friendships. Tell them when you are going out with your opposite-sex friend.
And be careful about putting yourself in an awkward position-or in a situation where appearances might imply something different than reality.
Trust is at the core of any healthy relationship-and honest communication keeps this trust alive. Opposite-sex friendships are great, and can be completely uncomplicated. Or they can get you into a whole heap of trouble.
My next article will delve into the thornier issues of jealousy of your significant other’s friendships: How do you cope with the fact that your boyfriend or husband has a close friendship with a woman at his office? Is your girlfriend or wife sharing too many details of your relationship with her male friends? In my first poll on this topic, half of BustedHalo readers said they have experienced pangs of jealousy about their significant other’s opposite-sex friendship. Take this survey and share some more thoughts on this topic!